January 19, 2006
In Charlottesville this winter, home heating costs have gone up nearly 30%. Senior citizens are among the many who are finding it harder to pay those bills. As costs rise, so will the number of those struggling to pay their heating bills. For some seniors who are on fixed incomes, it means staying warm or going hungry.
Mary Henson's electric bill for December is over $300. When asked if she could afford that, she replied "No...I have to budget, just pay so much each time to get it caught up," said Henson.
For many seniors like Henson, paying high heating bills is a struggle.
"You have to set something back in the corner so you can pay this," said Curtis Chapman.
Sometimes they're even asking themselves: should I pay for my prescriptions or the electric bill?
"I have to have my medication, so sometimes I have to decide whether I want to eat or not eat," said Ruth Dawson.
Most senior citizens are on fixed incomes so when they can't pay the bills they have to rely on others. "I had to come and live with my daughter here in Virginia because my gas bill and electric bill was so high," said Dawson.
Gordon Walker, of the Jefferson Area Board of Aging said it's been happening all over the region.
"The poverty level in our community is about $9,000 a year. About 12 percent of the elderly live below that," said Walker.
JABA has set up their own emergency heating fund to help these seniors but with two more months of winter to go, it's almost tapped out.
"We have exhausted about all the money that we had set aside," said Walker.
There is some relief for people who live in the city. The Charlottesville Gas Assistance Program, or GAP, gives assistance to individuals heating their homes with natural gas. The city will also give a rebate if residence use a programmable thermostat.
The State of Virginia's energy assistance program also helps eligible households with the cost of heating their homes regardless of the fuel type used.